The human brain is constantly in search of shortcuts. Once you learn a task, it rushes to create a find a way to skip as many of the steps as possible. For example, when you get good at reading, your brain begins to change the way it sees words. You’re probably not stopping to read each and every letter in the words I’ve written. You’re estimating these words based on your vocabulary, your previous experience and contextual clues, allowing you to read faster and get my meaning more quickly.
Work-arounds allow our brains to process enormous amounts of data from the world around us without overloading. But where does it end? How much does the brain blur reality to make it easier to digest? Sometimes I wonder.
I felt it happening when I moved across country this month. In my old town, my mind knew all of its details so well that I didn’t see the individual parts, only the whole. But when I arrived in my new city, everything felt hyper-realistic. The details screamed; my brain was overwhelmed as it tried to synthesize and conceptualize its new surroundings.
After a few weeks, that familiar feeling crept into my thinking. In the few blocks surrounding my apartment, I don’t notice the little quirks that once glared. I’ve simply labeled it all “My Street” and file my perceptions away where they won’t get in the way of whatever else I have to think about.
Am I hardwired to whitewash the world like this? Can I ever rekindle that feeling of the otherworldly, fresh perception and pure discovery? Or is it lost forever — blurred by a mind looking for the shortest distance between two neurons?
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I’m Jonny Eberle and I’m not a neuroscientist or a psychologist, so please don’t quote this blog in your term paper — I’m just a writer who thinks about thinking. You can follow me here and on Twitter.